Wearing a red light bucket hat on your head for Parkinson’s

One of the most intriguing PD stories of the year has been an unusual fashion trend taking place in Tasmania (Australia). Wearing a red light bucket on your head for Parkinson’s is literally turning heads in Tasmania.

The treatment is known as photobiomodulation. It is experimental and unproven. It does not claim to cure Parkinson’s. The people who have been experimenting with this technology claim to see slow and subtle improvements in PD symptoms over time. It is not a double-blind study, and it is possible a placebo effect is responsible for any improvements.

An article on the ABC News Australia website from February 2019 provides a good introduction to a group of people with Parkinson’s Disease who are self-experimenting with photobiomodulation as a treatment to ease PD symptoms, and the efforts to turn these experiments into a clinical trial.

Grace Winiecki spends 40 minutes each day with a red light bucket on her head — a device she claims is making a significant difference to her life.
Red light bucket for PD
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-02-24/clinical-trials-for-wearing-led-helmets-treatment-parkinsons/10836906

Kudos to Grace, as her picture turned PD photobiomodulation into a fashion statement. Dare I say, she became a fashion icon, and the gentleman in this picture was the first of many heads she turned with this bold new look.

Max Burr is the original patient zero of the PD photobiomodulation movement.  He’s just not as photogenic when wearing his bucket, as featured in Weekend Australian Magazine 18 months earlier:

On a crisp and clear autumn day two years ago, when the sun was high in the sky but the air was cold on the ground, retired federal politician Max Burr was sitting in front of his computer at home in Launceston, desperately seeking some help.

With the tenacity of a seasoned politician, Burr, 78, opened his laptop and began to search. Before long he had found a research paper on the use of photobiomodulation — the term for light’s ability to modulate key biological processes at a cellular or genetic level — in animal testing for Parkinson’s disease, published by Sydney University’s Professor John Mitrofanis. “The paper showed that the use of 670-nanometre red light was protective of neurons in Parkinson’s,” Burr says. “So I sent John an email and said, ‘Look, this is all very interesting, I wouldn’t mind having a crack at it’. ”

https://www.theaustralian.com.au/weekend-australian-magazine/let-there-be-light/news-story/7a35f2886a153ff69696caf333a7a611

ABC News in Adelaide posted a news video, featuring Max Burr, wearing the first generation design red light hat, designed by his friend, retired physician Catherine Hamilton. They enlisted the help of a local “Men’s Shed” to create different prototypes, and experimented with hard hats, bicycle helmets, hairdresser beauty shop dryers, and a timeless classic, the lamp shade, before finally settling on the now iconic red light bucket made famous by the news coverage.

(I had never heard of a Men’s Shed before. It’s a pretty interesting grass roots movement that started in Australia, originally focused on men’s health and well-being. Learn more about the movement here: https://mensshed.org/what-is-a-mens-shed/)

Max and Catherine were inspired by the research of Professor John Mitrofanis of the Department of Anatomy at the University of Sydney, Australia, who is an expert on photobiomodulation, and has conducted trials on mice. The professor cautioned Max that the treatment was experimental and unproven in humans.

A bucket to protect the brain

Ever worn a bucket on your head to improve your health? 🤔🤔

Max Burr is a Tasmanian retired federal politician, and he does it every day.

He’s trying to keep his Parkinson’s symptoms at bay, and he’s seeing some surprising results!

Posted by ABC Adelaide on Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Link: https://www.facebook.com/abcadelaide/videos/380240256127343/

Catherine Hamilton has created a website to chronicle the project and provide DIY instructions for building red light hats: https://redlightsonthebrain.blog

Catherine became interested in red and near infrared light after reading “The Brain’s Way of Healing” by Norman Doidge, a book that we discussed in the previous post in this red light district series. Initially this interest was directed toward helping with her own knee pain, which she successfully treated using an 850nm LED light (designed to be used as part of a security system), which was purchased on eBay.

After doing more research, she asked her friend Max Burr, if he would be interested in trying this type of therapy to help with Parkinson’s Disease. They created a hat using 670nm LED strip lights, and Max wore it daily for 20 minutes. Over the course of 6 months, he saw improvement in the fine motor skills he had lost in his right hand. He enjoyed playing lawn bowls, but had stopped because of problems releasing the ball with his right hand, but after gradual improvement, he was able to resume playing lawn bowls using his right hand.

The following links provide more of the backstory as told by Catherine Hamilton:

 

Interesting stuff, but where’s the research?

While there is a lot of research about photobiomodulation over the last 50 years, very little of this research has targeted Parkinson’s Disease. What little research there has been has been on animals, mice to be more precise. And, as referenced earlier, Professor John Mitrofanis is a co-author on most of this research.

Here are links to some of this research:

 

So, if you want to try this out yourself, what should you do?

Well, start by talking to your doctor. Read the research links above, and share the information with your doctor. Make an informed decision, because let’s be honest, this is weird science, and definitely experimental. Defective lights could even be dangerous!

If you decide to continue, the lights are the most important piece of the puzzle. Red and near infrared lights come in a baffling array of wavelengths.

The Tasmanian group observed the best results with a session using 670nm (dark red) LED lights, followed immediately by a session using 810nm LED lights. They caution that if you have any other kind of brain disease, including Parkinson’s Plus, only 670nm should be used.

 

Catherine Hamilton’s team has published two DIY designs. The original is called Eliza, and they are now recommending an updated design, called the Cossack:

 

PD Red Light District

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